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How to Survive a New York Internship

24th August 2015 Posted by: Natalie Cooke

SPENDING a summer in New York can undoubtedly be the experience of a lifetime, a one in a million opportunity - all the clichés aptly apply. The experience can be an eye-opening one and you will learn as much about yourself as you will about the new environment that surrounds you.

Even though we have grown up with American films and TV shows, it is surprising to discover how different US culture is when you get there, and in this sense, I’m sharing the surprises I encountered, and the tips and tricks I hope will help.

In my defence, I can be incredibly naive: you may go to America and never be startled by these points. But, just in case, here’s my advice on how to survive a New York internship.

Remember that New York is a state, not merely a city

To get from one end of New York to the other, it takes at least 7+ hours by train. The state boundaries stretch right from New York City, on the Atlantic, right up to the Niagara Falls on the Canadian border. The state stretches on for a good 400+ miles, whereas New York City boundaries stretch for around 60.

As there is a whole state beyond that one famous city, New Yorkers tend to get a bit annoyed when you say anything along the lines of, ‘I didn’t realise it wasn’t just New York City.’ Americans from the city will promote the city, whereas Americans from outside the city will promote anything else and avoid it like the plague.

Learn to speak ‘American’

Bridging the gap between American English and English English is much more of a challenge than you might anticipate. Some words are completely different, some are variations of the same thing and some are interchangeable. You become very aware of your own colloquialisms and speech idiosyncrasies as well.

You’ll also get confused on at least one occasion when making plans, as Americans write the date the opposite way around from us (9/11 is the 11th September as opposed to the 9th November).

And in case you haven’t heard potentially the most embarrassing mistranslation, which I’d thankfully been warned of before my departure: don’t ask your colleagues for rubbers. Rubbers are condoms. Ask for erasers.

Get ready for some early mornings!

In what would appear to be a massive juxtaposition to the Dolly Parton lyrics, you will most likely be joining your colleagues for 8am cups of coffee and by 4pm your office will have become a ghost town.

The prevailing attitude seems to be to get the work done, then get home and enjoy the rest of the day. It takes about a week of getting used to and then it actually becomes quite refreshing.

It’s a city of extremes

Everything in America is on a bigger scale, so the extremes of society are much more apparent. For me, this was brought to life in New York City where on 5th Avenue you will get to a point where window shopping is your only option; all those actually purchasing will be decked in designer attire, and will be picked up outside the shop in chauffeur driven cars. Contrastingly, if you wander off the main streets, you cannot miss the plight of the homeless, who are begging for morsels of food just around the corner from the epitome of wealth.

Be prepared for big portions

Think ‘Man vs. Food.’ American cuisine follows on from the ‘everything is on a bigger scale’ theme. American food is a very rich diet, and because of the huge percentage of the population who are descended from immigrants, there are pockets of international cuisine throughout the States, many with European roots. You will no doubt sample American staples, such as New York or Chicago Pizza.

There is a tendency for a lot of food to be deep fried, and there is a chance that the entire meal can taste like sugar due to artificial sweeteners (seriously, even broccoli can have a sugary taste) but if you go into restaurants where they cook the food fresh, you’ll be in for a real treat.

The other great thing about American dining culture is that they’re all about the doggy bag! So if you can’t finish your meal there and then, which can be a challenging feat, this offers a happy solution.

Make the most of your time

America is all about the experience. The Fourth of July, the ‘city that never sleeps’; you can almost taste the Manifest Destiny. My advice would be to embrace the opportunity behind that philosophy and there are two ways I would recommend doing this:

  • Get involved in everything – on our first night in New York, we were invited to go along to a kid’s baseball tournament. Now it wasn’t exactly a Yankees game, but it was great just to see a totally different culture and to get talking to our future neighbours. So whether it’s sport, going out for dinner, or even getting involved with a local charity, definitely give it a go. It might be something completely out of your comfort zone, and something you never envisaged yourself trying, but you don’t want to waste a trip to America on what-might-have-beens.
  • Travel! Take any and every opportunity to travel whilst you’re in America – there is something for everyone to be interested in! Whether it is history and politics, sport, cuisine, music, or any aspect of culture, the USA’s rich tapestry means that each state has its own unique adventures. A trip to NYC or Washington D.C. will make for unforgettable memories, and it is well worth splashing out an extra few dollars to really treat yourself to the whole experience.

So in short, get ready to have your eyes opened, and take every opportunity you can! Good luck! 

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